“Reclaiming the earth one worm at a time” is the motto we’ve come up with at Draco Hill. The reason we think in terms of worms is because of the first soil we ever dug here. Paul grabbed a shovel, stuck it in some tilled up ground and threw it onto some cardboard nearby. Suzan bent over to count the bugs. They were told that the presence of lots of insects would be a good sign of healthy soil. It was only a matter of seconds before Suzan started laughing hard.
Here’s what our soil looked like:
There wasn’t a single living thing to be seen with the naked eye. No spiders. No worms. None of those beetle-like bugs. Nothing. We knew we had a lot of work to do.
So among other things we bought a 2,000 worms and a worm factory (though making one was possible too, Suzan was being her usual impatient self). This started our vermicomposting effort. Then we started loading it up with food scraps from the kitchen and shredded paper trash from the office. (This is a great way to avoid taking your kitchen waste out to the composter in the snow!) You can see what that looks like in the thumbnail above.
After a few months of steady feeding, those worms turned that mess of paper and potatoes and apple skins into this:
It’s great stuff called worm castings (or worm poop for the kids among us). Now what to do with it? We can mix it into the soil. We did that last year with our starter mix for seedlings, but thought this might be pretty powerful stuff for little seeds. We used the water that ran through it – leachate – and poured it on the garden, but it didn’t go very far. This year we’re going to turn it into a compost extract by putting it in a mesh bag and massaging it in a bucket of water for about a minute. That 4 gallons should give us enough – diluted into more water – to cover four acres, according to Elaine Ingram a microbiologist at the Rodale Institute. Elaine spoke at a Practical Farmers of Iowa conference this year and told us the water that just runs through the vermicompost doesn’t change the biology of it. Only working it either by hand or, to make compost tea with an air pump blowing water through it, can the important nutrients end up in the final product.
We’ll see how it works this summer. In the meantime, we’ve loaded up our worms with more food scraps and paper!